Ship Builder Explores Nuclear Power for Cruise Ships

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In a groundbreaking move that could redefine the face of marine propulsion, Newcleo, a nuclear tech company, has announced an alliance with the world-renowned shipbuilder Fincantieri, and RINA, a multinational conglomerate specializing in inspection, certification, and consulting engineering. 

The essence of this collaboration is to investigate the feasibility of introducing nuclear power to the world of cruising through cutting-edge closed mini reactor designs. Using nuclear power is one of the initiatives to bring the cruise industry closer to its goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.

A Greener, Nuclear, Future?

Newcleo unveiled a new partnership with shipbuilder Fincantieri and RINA, a classification society. Fincantieri is well known worldwide as the shipbuilder responsible for the Royal-class cruise ships from Princess Cruises, luxury cruise ships such as Seabourn Encore, and Carnival Cruise Line cruise ships Carnival Magic, Carnival Breeze, and Carnival Vista.

As part of the agreement, the three will combine their expertise to conduct an in-depth study into potential nuclear applications for the shipping and cruise industry. This includes examining the viability of integrating Newcleo’s state-of-the-art lead-cooled small modular reactors (SMR) technology.

Fincantieri Shipyard
Fincantieri Shipyard (Photo Credit: Climber 1959 / Shutterstock)

The cornerstone of this venture is Newcleo’s groundbreaking LFR (Lead-cooled Fast Reactor). This LFR resembles a compact nuclear battery, promising a 30MW electric output. Typically, ships have four diesel generator sets running on diesel, producing 8-10 MW of energy each. 

However, cruise ships rarely use all engines simultaneously, making one reactor sufficient for a medium to large cruise ship. 

Stefano Buono, Newcleo Chairman and CEO expressed his enthusiasm, stating: I am delighted that we are launching a project for civil nuclear naval propulsion with this important feasibility study. Combining expertise with technology innovation can bring a real solution to the issue of carbon emissions in maritime transport.

Besides its low-maintenance advantage, the entire unit can be seamlessly replaced once its lifespan concludes. The reactor needs refueling only once every decade or so. 

Harnessing nuclear power for cruise ships promises a shift from traditional fossil fuel reliance and expedited decarbonization of an industry under increasing scrutiny for its carbon footprint. The cruise industry has been challenged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Fincantieri Shipyard
Photo Credit: Novikov Aleksey /

Ugo Salerno of RINA shared, “The improvement of fuel efficiency and vessel design is already giving good results in reducing shipping footprint. But, in order to reach the targets fixed for this industry, we need alternative fuels with low carbon content from well to waste. 

“Nuclear will be one of the answers to these objectives. In addition, small modular reactors will be the most efficient solution to apply nuclear to shipping.”

Nuclear-Powered Cruise Ships and their Implications

The shift towards nuclear propulsion in the cruise industry raises several questions—notably, the safety of atomic power on ships. As for the LFRs, in the unlikely event of an accident, the liquid lead in the reactor solidifies upon contact with cold water, effectively encapsulating the reactor core. This inherent design ensures the containment of radiation.

The application of nuclear energy isn’t a novel concept. Submarines, aircraft carriers, and icebreakers have safely relied on nuclear power for years. Modern reactor designs, especially those like the LFRs, are equipped with built-in safety features that further enhance this security.

Read Also: What Fuel Do Cruise Ships Use?

Fincantieri Shipyard
Fincantieri Shipyard (Photo Credit: Mauro Carli / Shutterstock)

Comparatively, nuclear energy has the edge over conventional fuels like LNG and Heavy Fuel Oil. Nuclear propulsion stands out as a cleaner energy source, boasting minimal emissions.

Additionally, the consistent power output and reduced refueling needs make it an advantageous choice for cruise ships. 

However, using nuclear power for cruise ships will be something that the public will need to consider and understand. The transition involves technological advancements and needs to address safety concerns, environmental implications, and societal acceptance. 

Public awareness campaigns, transparent discussions about safety protocols, and environmental impact assessments will ensure that those who love to cruise are informed, confident, and supportive of such a significant shift.

Of course, nuclear power is just one idea to bring the cruise industry closer to its zero-carbon goal. In the last year, cruise companies have released concepts that use anything from wind power to biofuels and hydrogen-powered fuel cells.

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